Palermo Portrait

October 30, 2010

 I had just finished taking his photo when he put his knife down, beckoned me closer, and requested that we take a photograph together. And here it is. One of my favorite pics from that Palermo trip. Perhaps even one of my favorites of myself since arriving in Sicily. A fish seller with a big knife, Noah seated formally beside us, muddy fish guts under our feet, a charming, gritty, friendly encounter in the market. I love these kind of moments.

And isn't a photograph with a big knife perfect for Halloween? It's not every day that I get to take a picture with such a big knife or such a friendly fish seller or come to think of it such a willing seven year old son. Happy Halloween from Sicily!


October 28, 2010

Palermo: full of energy, layers of grit and history, puppets, secret courtyards, honking traffic, fresh seafood, Norman, Baroque, Arabic, majestic, watch out for dog poop on the sidewalks, talk to the locals, and wander, just wander.

Some of our favorite spots during this recent trip:
Vucciria Market
The Marionette Museum (call ahead for schedule of performances)
Climbing the banyan trees in Giardino Garibaldi Park
Touring the Massimo Opera House (English Tours available)

On The Road

October 23, 2010

We are loading up and heading to Cefalu and Palermo for some more Sicilian adventures. Hard to believe it has been a year since our first trip to Palermo. Keeping our fingers crossed that the weather won't be too rainy, the kids won't be too cranky, and the "family rooms" we reserved in the hotels will work out for us. Have I written yet about that aspect of European travel? Booking hotel rooms with more than one child in Europe is not always easy. It is one reason we usually go the apartment or tent route. Most hotel rooms accommodate 2 people and occasionally 3. Finding a hotel for a family of 4 requires some extra searching and additional charges are frequently per person, including children (sometimes there is a discount for kids, sometimes not) and the rates don't always include breakfast. One thing we have never done, but I am curious about, is to stay in a Kinder Hotel. Anyone out there stayed in a Kinder Hotel

Searching for the hotel rooms for this weekend's trip took a little more time than usual because we booked so close to the time of travel. On the bright side, I have to remind myself that we are traveling with our kids at a great stage of life (ages 4 and 7) diapers, no strollers, no adolescent angst. And to make this coming trip even better, we will have built-in entertainment: Nana and Poobah who tell lots of good jokes, dole out jelly beans, play dinner games, and love to travel. Ok, enough rambling and back to packing. Have a good weekend!

*Photo taken last weekend in Zaffarena, Sicily. I love the Sicilian carts, but I am very happy that we'll be hitting the road in our Mazda van instead of a cart.

Sicilian Signs of Autumn

October 21, 2010

Autumn produce fresh from the slopes of Mt.Etna: apples, chestnuts, and honey. Lots of roadside stands and car trunks filled with scales. What does autumn look or taste like in your part of the world?

Exploring: Tindari Lagoon

October 20, 2010

I am finally getting a chance to post information about our fabulous camping adventure to the Tindari area. We arrived at the Marinella campground after dark and thanks to our handy dandy pop-up tent we were able to set up camp very quickly. We then walked out the gate of the campground and had dinner at a waterfront restaurant in the town of Oliveri. It was nice to have such easy access to town when we were all so hungry. We had pitched our tent as close as possible to the beach side of the campground so we all quickly fell asleep to the sound of the waves. And when we woke up the next morning it was even more wonderful to discover that not only were we on a pleasant little beach, we were actually on the edge of an amazing little nature preserve: The Tindari Lagoon with stunning views of the Aoelian islands and in the shadow of the ancient Greek city of Tindaris and the church housing the remarkable Black Madonna. We spent part of  our first  full day to wind our way up to the town of Tindari to explore both of those interesting sites.

As I already mentioned, the trip was a much needed escape for all of us, but the time we spent exploring the lagoon filled me such awe and peace that it really was the highlight of the weekend for me. Striking vistas in all directions, remarkably pristine paths, a beautiful rocky beach on one side and a sandy one on the other. And it turns out that we weren't the only ones who were camping and re-charging in the lagoon. On our second morning, we were up early for one last walk when we came across a man with binoculars around his neck frantically scribbling notes. He stopped and excitedly waved us to his side as he pointed and drew our attention to a large gathering of black and white storks. They, too, were drawn to the "tongue" of sand and the lagoon filled with enticing critters and like us they had also decided to "camp" here for a few days. We were witnessing their migration from Northern Europe to Africa for the winter months. Huge white storks (with wing spans up to five feet) and black storks with their glamorous red legs and the story of their return to Europe. It was quite an impressive sight.

I wish, wish, wish, really wish that I had a good zoom lens. I wasn't able to get any great shots of them and we didn't want to be too intrusive so hopefully by writing this experience down I will lodge the memory of those beautiful storks in my brain. I am going to tuck it into the spot right next to the memory I have of my father coming home one night and hurrying us int the family van so we could head down the road to see something I will never forget: a pink, noisy, fluttering tree. A tree full of roseate spoonbills roosting in the faint glow of the setting sun. A truly magical memory.

It turns out that the guy who pointed out the storks in the lagoon is a professor from Palermo. A very friendly and excited naturalist who let us all have several turns with his binoculars. He is the guy pictured up above (with the birds being the dark specks in the background). After taking notes and pictures, Natale (we soon learned he was born on Christmas Day) settled down in the sand and smoked a cigarette. It seemed so incongruent with the stunning  surroundings and amazing nature show happening right before our eyes, and yet, it was also so very Italian. And in a very strange way his actions reminded me of my father. My father who was so excited and entranced by those spoonbills that I imagine he must have reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of Trident gum in much the same way Natale lit up his cigarette. Never thought I would find anything comforting about sitting next to a balding stranger smoking a cigarette while watching a group of very large, migrating birds wade along a beach in Sicily, but I did. I really did. 

Camping Notes for Marinello

Since we were camping during the off-season, the campsite was relatively quiet and empty. In addition to sites for tents, there are a number of spaces for campers and several options for cabins/bungalows. The older bungalows are attractive white stucco with tile roofs. There are some that are right on the water with beautiful views of the nature preserve. We did take a peek inside and they are very bare bones (tiny kitchen, bathroom and small bedrooms) and a bit dark, but if you were able to get one right on the water it might be worth a stay. The newer bungalow options are trailers that are managed and booked through a separate company, Camp 2 Relax. We spoke to one German family who was very happy with their trailer-stay. Those are also right along the beach area and we would consider staying there, especially during the colder months or if we went with a group of families.

The campground has a restaurant on-site but it is closed during off-season so I can't comment on that. We did find the camp store very helpful and had a nice little selection of fresh bread, salami, cheeses, and olives and fresh tomatoes. The staff all spoke excellent English and German. 

One other important note. When we were checking-in, we were asked if we had a Sicilian campsite discount card. We did not, but once we got the details we quickly signed up. It was free! And it gave us a significant discount for our stay and for future stays at the other campgrounds on the list.

Villagio Marinello

Black, White, and Orange

October 15, 2010

While exploring Tindari last weekend, we turned a corner and came across this happy cat perched upon a funky, orange Fiat. Isn't that a great combination of Halloween colors ala Sicily? I have Halloween on the brain since we have started putting up our decorations and having lots of very serious discussions about Halloween costumes. In addition to preparing for Halloween, we are also getting very excited for the arrival of Adam's parents. Time with Nana and Poobah is always good. What are you looking forward to this weekend?


October 11, 2010

I really didn't plan to take such a long break from blogging, but I guess I needed it. In addition to adjusting to the start of the school, we spent last week dealing with sicknesses (fevers, pink eye, and allergies) and the related cabin fever. So this past weekend we loaded up the van and went camping and it was just what we all needed. A true escape....escaping the rain that seemed to be hanging over our area of the island all weekend, escaping the four walls of our house that had been full of sick, cranky people all week, escaping work, escaping dishes (we walked to the local restaurant for dinner instead of cooking at the campsite), and escaping any deadlines or busy schedules. I felt like I was able to exhale and breath deeply for the first time in several weeks. We rose with the sun and fell asleep to the sound of the waves. It was so good we stayed another night. 

I'll post more details and pics about where we camped soon, but for tonight I'll leave you with this:  

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